Israel tells more than 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate eastern Rafah ahead of ground invasion

Israeli army says it is preparing to ‘operate with force’ in Rafah as more than 100,000 people told to evacuate

Shweta Sharma,Bel Trew
Monday 06 May 2024 10:38 BST
Related video: IDF opens Erez crossing for first time since 7 October to supply urgent aid to Gaza

The Israeli military has called on more than 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate eastern Rafah ahead of a long-expected ground invasion, and despite warnings from the United Nations of a burgeoning humanitarian catastrophe and an imminent “bloodbath”.

The Israeli military have begun dropping flyers to Palestinians sheltering in Rafah relief camps where the military is set to “operate with force” against Hamas, it said.

People have been asked to move to what Israel described as the “humanitarian zone” at Al-Mawasi as the army prepared for a “limited scope operation”, without confirming when the Rafah invasion would begin. Families in Rafah told The Independent there was a state of panic after the evacuation orders and that Al-Mawasi was “not a liveable place” and also not safe.

“In accordance with the approval of the political echelon, the IDF is calling on the population, which is under the control of Hamas, to temporarily evacuate from the eastern neighbourhoods of Rafah to the expanded humanitarian space,” a statement from the IDF said on Monday.

It said that it was contacting Palestinians through “announcements, text messages, phone calls and media broadcasts in Arabic”.

The army has begun dropping red and blue flyers that warn those sheltering in the Rafah Camp, the Brazil Camp and the neighbourhood of Al-Shabura to evacuate immediately.

The translated message from Arabic on the flyers reads: “Remaining in these areas puts your lives in danger.”

“The IDF is about to operate with force against the terror organizations in the area you currently reside, as the IDF has operated so far,” it added.

Palestinians inspect the destruction following overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 6 May
Palestinians inspect the destruction following overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 6 May (AFP via Getty Images)

The evacuation notices came as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to walk away from ceasefire talks that are due to continue through to Tuesday, after refusing to agree to Hamas’s demands to withdraw Israeli forces from Gaza.

Families in Rafah who have already been displaced multiple times said people were panicking as they had no where to go. Nedal Hamdouna, who is twice displaced from North Gaza and is in the living in a tent with his extended family, said it was not possible for people to live in al-Mawasi. The tiny patch of coastal land that the Israeli military identified as the “humanitarian zone” is mostly sand dunes and packed with displaced people.

“Al-Mawasi is not a liveable place,” he told The Independent in desperation. “Before the war it was just empty beach land there is no infrastructure. We have had discussions about trying to move elsewhere but there is nowhere that is safe and liveable, with no water it’s all destroyed.”

“The question everyone is asking is where do we go? Al Mawasi is not big enough, and it’s already full. Hundreds of thousands of people are already living there, there are thousands of tents with no space between them. Also how do people get there?

“Everyone is worried and scared,” Nedal added.

Piling pressure on the misery were overnight air strikes on east Rafah which killed multiple people and the temporary closure of the land crossing to Kerem Shalom, which saw food prices in Rafah double overnight. Palestinian health officials said at least 19 people were killed by Israeli fire.UN officials told The Independent an Israeli military operation into Rafah, which is sheltering to 1.4 million people, most of them already displaced and half of them children, could "lead to a bloodbath."

Tamara al-Rifae, from the UN's Palestinian Refugee Agency UNRWA, told The Independent the potential impact from the assault would be "catastrophic".

"No amount of emergency planning can assuage the immense anxiety than most people in Rafah feel today, as news of an imminent incursion abound," she said, adding that UNRWA has pledged to stay put in the border town and continue humanitarian operations.

"The potential impact of such a military operation is catastrophic, given the level, scope and scale of the destruction that Gazans have already witnessed across the Strip for the last 7 months," she continued.

"An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is the only way to prevent more death and destruction."

Louise Wateridge, who also works for UNRWA and spoke to The Independent from inside Rafah, said that there had been a lot of hope of ceasefire coming over the last few days, but that had turned to “huge fear and concern” about safety as Israel’s Rafah assault looked imminent.

“Every person I’ve spoke to here has conveyed to me how scared they are of what is next,” she told The Independent from the border town in Gaza.

“Everybody is asking where do we go and what are they going to find? Even in Rafah there is not infrastructure despite having humanitarian operations based her and on the ground here for months because there are so many people in such a small place.”

She said a recent heatwave in Rafah actually killed people who were sheltering in plastic tents which provide no shelter. “This looming threat of additional displacement really threatens to push the community past its breaking point. It’s exasperating already dire living conditions and placing hundreds of 1000s of people at increased risk.”

Defence minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday that Israeli military action was required in Rafah due to Hamas’s refusal to mediate proposals for a truce and release Israeli hostages.

Mr Netanyahu has been unrelenting in his plans to invade Rafah despite warnings that it will lead to massive casualties among the civilians sheltering there. Israel has faced calls from both world leaders and humanitarian agencies to call off its assault.

Rafah sits at the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt at the far south of the Hamas-controlled enclave, and has become increasingly overcrowded with up to a million Palestinians sheltering there from the Israeli offensive to the north.

Relatives of Palestinians killed during an Israeli air strike mourn next to their wrapped bodies outside Al-Najjar Hospital
Relatives of Palestinians killed during an Israeli air strike mourn next to their wrapped bodies outside Al-Najjar Hospital (EPA)

The Israeli army describes Rafah as the last stronghold for Hamas and claims that between 5,000 to 8,000 of its fighters and senior leaders are holed up in the city.

On Sunday three Israeli soldiers were killed after Hamas militants carried out a deadly rocket attack from the Kerem Shalom crossing in Rafah.

The IDF claimed that 10 projectiles were fired from a part of Rafah crossing in southern Gaza, about 3.6km (2.2 miles) from a major crossing used for the delivery of aid. Hamas’s armed wing claimed responsibility for the attack.

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